For eight years, Uganda has seemed less the victim of a petty tyrant than of a grotesquely demonic force of nature. While the world's leaders were almost unanimous in their condemnation of the Amin regime, his death machine-like a natural disaster-seems to have all but paralyzed our will to act.
Just as Adolf Hitler enjoyed unfettered trade with the West long after his genocidal policies were common knowledge, so Idi Amin's life blood was supplied by almost every nation that stood to profit from trade with Uganda. Robusta coffee, Uganda's chief cash crop, was confiscated from the growers and translated into Land Rovers, guns and payola for the mercenary army.
Although the United States was by no means Uganda's largest trading partner, we imported ,360 million in Ugandan beans between January 1975 and August 1977, refusing to interfere with "free-trade principles." As the death toll topped 300,000, according to Amnesty International's estimate, the Carter administration argued piously that politics should not be confused with business.
The hard-some would say, unpalatable-truth behind the West's business-as-usual policy was that it was rooted in racism. As long as Amin's victims were black, he was perceived as yet another black African buffoon full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Our press yawned and looked for more stirring news until whites were murdered-most notably, two Americans (in protest, we immediately closed our embassy in Kampala) and Dora Bloch (when she was killed after theEntebbe raid, Amin received interational censure). Furthermore, espousing no ideology but his own determination to convert the country tot he Muslim faith, Amin was not viewed as a threat in the arena of East-west confrontation.
The seeming indifference of the other African states to the wholesale violence in Uganda is poorly understood here. Surely Amin was a uniquely African problem. That is precisely why the Organization of African Unity could not afford to take meaningful action against the regime. The single most crucial principle adhered to by the OAU is th einviolability of borders, for the new, developing African nations know that any encroachment on a sovereign state's boundary is an invitation to chaos.
And while Amin's brutality and clownishness were undeniably an embarrassment to much of black Africa, his surface swagger (particularly during the first years of his rule) held popular appeal for the millions who had suffered for so long under colonial rule.
In the end, it was Idi Amin himself who engineered his destruction. With the economy in a shambles and the Nubian army disintegrating as paychecks dwindled, Amin paved the way to ruin by striking wildly at neighboring Tanzania. Almost alone among the African states, Tanzania had condemned Amin's behavior from the start. President Julius Nyerere-carefully maintaining that his troops were merely helping Ugandan exile forces and citing Ugandda's violation of international law in occupying northwestern Tanzania last fall-finally gave the orders for attack.
Looking beyond the profit motive and the African insistence upon non-intervention, one can see that both the United States adn black Africa were additionally hobbled by reluctance to challenge any figurehead of black African autonomy. Just as adolescents cannot afford to admit their vulnerability as they struggle toward full, mature identities of their own, the emerging nations of Africa could nto bring themselves to turn upon the monster in their midst. The same guiding principle stymied most American blacks, who are all toof amiliar with the national tendency to identify all blacks with the weakest link in the chain.
Aminhs excesses may well have moved both groups toward maturity in the last analysis. The Tanzanian-led invasion of Uganda has been viewed as a legitimate response throughout most of Africa-heartening proof that th collective African tree can bend in the wind without breaking. In this county, after prolonged debate and indecision, it was black America that lent the decisive support ot hte adoption of trade sanctions against Uganda last year. Thousands of their Ugandan brothers and sisters were drowning in bloods, and the color of the tyrant was finally deemed to be no excuse for inaction.
It is clear that the new government will look primarily to the United States for friendship and aid. We were, after all, the only country int he world to take a definitive stand against Amin for purely moral reasons. The boycott was probably more symbolic than anything else, but it unambiguously signaled both our disgust with the carnage and our willingness to help the Ugandan phoenix rise from the ashes when the time came. That time has now come. CAPTION: Picture, no caption.